Saturday, July 16, 2011

Re-Imagining Indian Telecom!

Countless strategic theories speak about redefining the market from consumer point view. The blue ocean strategy, the sudden change in the paradigm, the proverbial outside idea that brooms away today’s winners and redefines everything. It’s always seen that the incumbents had the best of everything – but were blinded by love for their own product features than consumer benefits. They fail to see the picture from the consumer’s lenses and become irrelevant.

I have been an Indian Telecom professional since almost a decade now. And since I am a bit of a student of strategy myself I am going to attempt to imagine NEW VALUES that Indian telecom can create by just adding a few cosmetic layers to its foundations.

To me Telecom is the business of connecting different people or points. It’s not about selling minutes alone. Not many know – but top Indian Telcos like Idea, Voda and Airtel own the biggest distribution machineries anywhere in the world delivering a mindboggling 10 billion + units of recharges every month. They are behemoths who have the best of the manpower, infrastructures and deep pockets.

Here’s my list of top 10 outside ideas the telcos can consider to create new values and new businesses– by just unlocking some of the existing asset’s values

1. Direct to Home deliveries – Ask a EBAY.COM or any of the newly launched e commerce portal the value of the distribution that we own. Ability to send anything to any part of country on back of our own (not outsourced 3rd party) distribution is priceless. Also ask them the value of having already enrolled the customer and having a contact centre set up ready at the other end. We already are a biggest catalogue retailer in the country who is yet to open shop!

2. Google On Phone - Just Dial – whose business it? Who should have created it first? Is it not funny that it took a Just Dial to make us realize the value of becoming a GOOGLE on phone? With low literacy rates and internet penetration– there will always be opportunity for a GOOGLE on phone to emerge. Doesn’t matter that some small players have taken a small first movers advantage. Given their sheer size the telcos can do a far better ‘me too’ product and take that market away.

3. A discount catalogue – this is an allied business to the Just Dial model or the Google model. Once you own the searches then you can always own a bit of additional value from each of the business that gets benefited by that platform. Again given that the telcos are already interacting with close to a million shop owners already – and each and every street of India is pounded daily by its sales force - this job of enlisting offers from various establishments should come naturally to the telcos

4. VAS retailer on the phone – The mobile VAS industry today is 10000 Crs. And still each and every VAS buyer is confused about how to buy / understand his favorite VAS service. A VAS retailer on the phone – one single number where the customers can dial and can directly speak to a telecaller is the order of the day. Need I mention that this retailer need not be brand exclusive :-)

5. A desi me too FACEBOOK, Google, You Tube, GetJar and EBAY– Bulk of future internet consumers are yet to log in for the first time. Bulk of the future internet consumption will happen via the mobile phone. What are we waiting for? Didn’t the Chinese create their local version of Google and EBAY? I think there’s serious business case for Indian Telcos to create multiple ‘me toos’ duplicates of popular web products – and peddle it to their own captive customers. Take the vernacular route if you wish. There’s immense value that can be created without much effort on this count.

6. “Radio on the go” – Telcos today are biggest sellers of music and Radio is the medium to sell music. Imagine an exclusive radio station for Airtel or Idea subscribers – somehow preloaded on the SIM card or the bundled handset or even otherwise. We can promote all service updates, new VAS products via the RJs. And all songs that are played are immediately sold as ringtones and CRBTs. Do you think that makes sense?

7. Telco as Banks –Indian telcos today handle over a billion transactions on DAILY basis and settle / tally all of it online – a feat most of the banks can’t boast of even today. Telecom’s reach is over 10 times that of Indian banking. It has reached most of unbanked Indians in a matter of 10 years – something the banking industry failed to do since last 50 years. The fact that millions of Indians store over a 100 billion rupees at point in time in form of mobile balance shows the trust and faith it has amassed. Need I say more? Indian Telcos are already the best banks that are yet to open shop. This particular one I know is held back in regulatory hurdle – nevertheless it’s worth mentioning it here.

8. Money transfers – India is slowly turning out to be a nation of Nomadic Tribes – every Indian is working out of someplace else these days. From migrants to MBA execs. Sending money back home to paying bills on parent’s behalf – money transfers is a big opportunity, and given that the telcos own the two end points – they already have a head start here over others.

9. Boutique MVNOs - There are so many niche ways in which Indians may want to consumer telecom – but marketers are yet to explore those niches. There could be lifestyle cards, airline co-branded points program, shopping cards, premium niches too – like some customers may want a secretary to attend the calls beforehand etc. I think there’s lot that can be done in this space.

10. Telco as media house – Finally an immediate advertising opportunity. Telcos today print billions of recharge coupons. Millions log in at contact centre and are put on hold to hear boring background music. Telcos also sent out millions of bill inserts every month. And there are obvious medias like SMSs and others. There are thousands of mobile towers that telcos own in vantage locations. We are some sort of small media house with a bouquet of assets lying idle on sidelines. This can be a small business of sorts waiting to be explored– and with mobile screens becoming bigger day by day – who know we could start a newspaper of our own on cell phone one day – who knows?

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